The 11th Region is one of, if not the most, brutal regions in Kentucky high school boys’ basketball. Entering this week, four of its teams were ranked in the top 10 of Dave Cantrall’s Rating the State. An additional three were in the top 25, and one more was on the cusp of being there.
As the penultimate week of the regular season comes to a close and before the postseason kicks off Feb. 19, let’s assess where some of the region’s top contenders stand in the 11th Region stock market.
The Cardinals, ranked No. 1 in the state, have been considered a championship contender from the onset and have not disappointed those who picked them to win it all come March. Scott County is undefeated against Kentucky competition this season and its only loss was to Cincinnati Moeller, one of the top-ranked teams in Ohio.
Why you should buy: An experienced group that fell to eventual state champion Bowling Green last year has the depth and discipline to cut down the nets in Rupp Arena.
Why you might sell: A long-term injury to one of the Cardinals’ core rotation pieces would be the only cause for concern here. Cooper Robb, a Charlotte signee, missed some time with an ankle sprain and the Cards ended up playing fine in that stretch, but they wouldn’t want to be without him in March.
In the span of nine days, the No. 3 Indians picked up two of the strongest wins by any team in the state — a 53-52 upset of then-No. 1 Trinity and a 76-50 rout of No. 8 Ballard that head coach Chris Renner described as his worst defeat against a Kentucky opponent in his time with the Bruins. Madison Central between those games, both at home, lost at Henry Clay on a buzzer-beater and handed a 55-point defeat to Harrison County on the road. It followed up its Ballard win with a stunning 82-45 defeat of No. 11 Lexington Catholic in Lexington.
Why you should buy: Isaiah Cozart is an incredible shot-blocker who’s going to be a fit to deal with come playoff time, even for teams with the size to match his body in the post. The Indians are playing their best basketball of the season and peaking at the right time.
Why you might sell: Madison Central has been on fire from long range lately — it hit 13 of 22 three-pointers at Lexington Catholic on Tuesday — and typically does not go as deep into its bench as Scott County. An extended cold stretch from the arc could be detrimental to a run to Rupp.
Lexington Christian Academy
LCA, ranked No. 7, won the All “A” Classic state championship for the first time in school history and has won 16 of its last 17 games, including 13 straight. It has a shot to better control its postseason destiny in its final two 43rd District games — versus Lexington Catholic on Friday and at Lafayette on Tuesday. Wins would give it the No. 1 seed in the district, but a loss in either game would slot it into a third-seed spot.
Why you should buy: LCA’s trio of big men — Austin Hall, Carter Hendricksen and Kyle Rode — comprise a front-court for which few teams in the state have many answers. The Eagles proved they could string together a lengthy tournament run and are motivated to do so again at the big dance.
Why you might sell: Stage fright set in a bit last season after LCA made the 11th Region Tournament for the first time in program history, and the result was a first-round upset at the hands of Madison Central. Given how stacked the 43rd District is, it’s not crazy to think the Eagles might not even get a chance to have a stronger showing in Richmond.
The Generals have chugged along and quietly put together a résumé befitting a legitimate contender — well, quietly as a top-10 team can, at least. The No. 6 Generals boast two wins over Lexington Catholic along with victories over No. 16 Doss (a Sixth Region favorite), No. 23 Oldham County, Madison Central and, most recently, No. 13 Bryan Station. That doesn’t even bring into account recent wins over No. 21 Henry Clay and Paul Laurence Dunbar, each of whom have made their presence felt more in the past month. Lafayette can lock up the top spot in the 43rd District with a victory over Lexington Christian at home on Tuesday.
Why you should buy: Lafayette doesn’t have a bona fide “star” like some of the other blue chippers, but it spreads the ball around efficiently. It has players at three different positions — Eric Powell (guard), Cameron King (forward) and Ray Surratt (center) — averaging double-digit scoring. The Generals shoot 46.8 percent as a team and 37.2 percent from long distance.
Why you might sell: Similar to Madison Central, a cold streak from three-point range could spell disaster for the Generals in a big game — especially since they don’t have a shot-blocker like Cozart to help mitigate any damage.
Arguably the most exciting story for the first half of the season, the Defenders have since hit something of a skid. They’re 3-4 in their last games and 7-4 overall since January. The most recent wins were over lower-ranked teams in the region but it should be remembered that Station kicked off the month with three consecutive wins over top-25 teams (Henry Clay, Lafayette and Madison Central, its second over the Indians) followed by a win over Paris, a 10th Region challenger. Two of the losses — to Paul Laurence Dunbar without Player of the Year contender Eric “Boss” Boone in the lineup and at Lafayette in a senior-night revenge game — are forgivable. The Defenders’ two losses to Scott County — a double-digit loss at home after leading at halftime and a 40-point drubbing on the road with Cards star Cooper Robb sidelined — are harder to get over in terms of assessing their title potential.
Why you should buy: Bryan Station has, without a doubt, the best player in the city this season in Boone, who’s contributed in every facet of the game and will all but certainly be a Mr. Basketball finalist. His energy, particularly on the glass, is special for a point guard, and he’s the type of guy who could get a team to a state championship if things fell into place the right way.
Why you might sell: Can the Defenders overcome the stink of those two Scott County losses? At this point, too, it would be silly to overlook Henry Clay, whom it swept this season and will meet in the 42nd District semifinals, because the Blue Devils are starting to play some strong basketball.
The Knights’ most-notable wins in the new year were a 12-point home victory over Lexington Christian and an 11-point win at Paul Laurence Dunbar. They’ve dropped two games to Lafayette and are locked into either the two or three seed, which will mean opening the postseason against either Lafayette or LCA, both top-10 teams. Catholic’s most-recent display, an 82-45 home loss to Madison Central, was shocking; the Knights got clocked early in the first quarter and never got back into the game.
Why you should buy: Defense. Catholic’s man-to-man, hyper-press style on the end “that wins championships” is something on which the Knights can count most nights even if the ball isn’t going through the hoop. Of all the teams on this list they might have the best pedigree when it comes to grinding out “ugly” wins.
Why you might sell: Offense. Among the upper eight teams in the region, Catholic’s 62.3 points per game ranks ahead of only Paul Laurence Dunbar. The Knights do have three double-digit scorers, including star senior Zan Payne (20.8 ppg), though.
Buy low, high return?
Henry Clay and Paul Laurence Dunbar
There’s a path for each of these teams to get to the 11th Region Tournament that didn’t seem as apparent to speculators in the early part of the season. The Blue Devils were hammered by Bryan Station, their first-round foe in the 42nd District Tournament, at home in December before turning around and nearly upsetting the Defenders on the road last month (a free throw with a few seconds left prevented overtime in a 58-57 Station win). Henry Clay defeated Madison Central on a buzzer-beater and has played Scott County closer than any team in the city.
Dunbar did not fare well against a brutal schedule to start the year. It was 2-10 before a win over Tates Creek on Jan. 9 kicked off a 7-3 stretch, including wins over Bryan Station and Henry Clay. Perhaps more encouraging, in some ways, are the loss margins, which have improved against high-quality competition. The Bulldogs, on the verge of top-25 status, would have to defeat Tates Creek in the 4-5 game and then one of either Lafayette or LCA in the 43rd District semifinals to make the region tournament; a tough climb, but not insurmountable.
Why you should buy: Having head coaches on the sidelines who’ve been there and done that before can’t be discounted. Henry Clay is still predominantly led by underclassmen who have time to grow in the spotlight. Dunbar has guys on its roster who were around for the team’s highly successful previous two seasons mixed with junior Isaiah Allen, a strong player who’s never gotten a chance to play for a region title and will be extra-motivated with that chance on the line.
Why you might sell: If you’ve already bought in and have been a believer all season, I’m not sure why you would sell at this point — it’s fun to root for underdogs. It’s odd to classify each as such, considering they’re top-25 staples and because just two years ago they met in the 11th Region Tournament ranked No. 1 and No. 3 in the state, respectively, but here we are.